Reality or imagination

2010, Photography

Reality or imagination, for me that is the question. I haven’t been rambling for a while, but some things kind of really struck my in the perception and execution of photography, in particular with amateur photography. So please remember that this is just merely my own thinking.

Often you hear and read how important reality is to people. Photographers say the camera (or film) should give accurate, neutral and realistic colors. Photographs must be tack sharp, because the lens should get sharp photographs. Shallow depth of field is fully overrated, hate bokeh, and who needs it anyway to make good pictures?

For instance last night I read at a forum: “Only real pros go to such dark places and like to blur their backgrounds to hide the surroundings . Us mere mortals like to see clearly what’s in the pictures. I know it’s crass…”. Well believe me, I find such remarks crass. I really do. Maybe huge depth of field, tack sharp fore- and background, and neutral colors records an accurate photograph of a moment (or basically a snapshot in my opinion). But in my opinion also only that, a record. Like a witness.

I believe the essence of good photography is to leave enough space for imagination. Photography is already so close to reality, unlike painting or drawing. With painting and drawing you can leave behind anything that forms a distraction and only paint or draw that what is necessary so the viewer will be forced to imagine the story, the setting, the reason of the art piece. And the viewer is likely affected by their own perception as well. We all have our own interpretation of reality so does the viewer recognize the subject or scene? Do the colors match the colors we remember and can relate to (stoplight is red, grass is green, etc.)?

Especially amateur photographers have so much more freedom in photography than professionals. Only we, and not the clients, set the requirements for our photography. We have more freedom to experiment, to challenge our creativity. It is however something most don’t do or hardly try. And when they actually do it, they hardly understand that they are doing it. Many don´t use the `rules` (hate that word) as freely interpretable guidances. They seem to treasure it as the law. Technical limitations like gear or knowledge set the borders for their photography and when they want to push further many will likely buy them self new gear.

Imagery is like depicting on a subject and leaving room for interpretations. Basically a form of isolating. The more we add, the harder that becomes. When the subject matters to you, photograph only the subject. When the subject and surroundings matter to you, than add some of the surroundings, but only just some what is needed. When you want the viewer to trigger their imagination, only photograph a particular detail of the subject (a photograph of a woman´s leg will likely trigger your imagination how the woman might actually look like, a photograph of a beautiful woman less).

There are several compositional and technical methods to work on that. You can play with the height of the horizon. Where to place the subject in your composition. Black and white photography, Wider angle for open spaces and layers, or longer focal lengths for compressing the scene. Getting close or keeping distance. And shallow depth of field to isolate the subject. Try to study photographs from people you admire or work that inspires you. See how much is needed to tell a story, to create an interesting photograph.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma